I’m a 2013 columnist for Kill Your Darlings, writing about all things children’s and young adult. And this month, my column was Melina Marchetta-centric. Thanks to the lovely people at Penguin Books Australia, I was able to shoot off some pertinent questions . . . my KYD column focused on the ‘Jellicoe Road’ movie adaptation, but I actually asked a few more questions that had to be cut-down for word-length.
So, here is the Melina Marchetta Q&A in its entirety.
And a very big thank you to the incredible Ms Marchetta for taking the time to answer my very detailed (some would say, long-winded) questions!
Q: First of all; what can you tell us about the ‘On the Jellicoe Road’ movie adaptation? I know you’d been writing the script for three years, and you’ve recently mentioned that Sue Taylor is onboard as producer and Kate Woods as director. What other little tid-bits can you reveal about the movie’s status?
There’s probably very little I can tell you except to say that we have sent it to an actress who could possibly be Taylor Markham and that the ball doesn’t really start rolling until we cast her and Jonah Griggs. From a production side, Goalpost films are also on board. They recently had the success of The Sapphires, which was such a wonderful film. We’ve also got US producers involved so it’s definitely happening, but there’s a lot of waiting for the right people and we’re not interested in making this film without the right people. Kate Woods is coming from LA to stay with me next week so it will be a Jellicoe talk fest for the whole ten days while I show her every single film/TV or image of actors and actresses that I’ve taped or downloaded or saved.
Q: I read somewhere that you started writing a version of ‘Jellicoe’ back in 1993. It went through a few transformations, but always there was Taylor Markham (and a boy in a tree?). It’s amazing that you’ve had this story for some 19 years, and that Taylor is the character that’s been with you the longest. Is there going to be some catharsis in bringing this book to the big screen? Will you finally feel like Taylor is untethered, or do you think there’s still more to ‘Jellicoe’ and you’re not quite done with this fertile setting just yet?
I let go of Jellicoe the novel once it found its audience. That probably didn’t happen until it won the Printz in the US, but it was such a liberating feeling knowing that the novel was out in the world being read. With the script it’s different because it’s been such a long process, as film always is. I’m really proud of this film script and watching it one day on the big screen will truly be an emotional experience for so many reasons. I say often that there will be some scenes that I won’t be able to watch. And yes, I’ll be finished with Taylor. But in saying that, I’m not finished with the setting. Cathy Randall (who originally was going to direct Jellicoe) and I are working on a TV production with Joanna Werner and Sue Taylor that is set in Jellicoe’s “fertile setting”. An isolated boarding school is the perfect place to let your imagination run wild. Whenever we pitch it, we say we want it to be West Wing for teenagers; fast smart dialogue and really complicated lives, with a lot of heart and not a lot of schmaltz.
Q: You’ve been experiencing beginnings and endings for these last few years. This year, of course, your ‘Lumatere Chronicles’ trilogy came to a close with the wonderful ‘Quintana of Charyn’, and three years ago you picked up Taylor Markham’s story again and started adapting the book, which was first published in 2006. I’m curious if you did any sort of writerly ritual to say goodbye to the world of Skuldenore (for the time being?) and if your characters always stay with you and talk to you, long after their books have hit the shelves?
The last thing I ever do with one of my novels is I listen to it. The Froi and Quintana audio versions read by Grant Cartwright and produced by Bolinda Audio have been great for that. It’s almost as if I need someone to read my story back to me. I never ever think my characters are real people, but I do miss them. I miss them being in my head when I wake up at 3am, and trust me, those Lumaterans and Charynites were such big personalities to have in my head. I think the hardest characters to let go of, though, were the Finch-Mackees from The Piper’s Son. I still miss their dark humour and their fierceness. And for the record, I’d be wrong to say I’m finished with characters. Tom Mackee made a fool of me in that way and so did Froi. The only characters I won’t write about ever again are the Alibrandi lot and that has much to do with the fact that my grandmothers were both alive when I was writing Nonna Katia and I don’t want her getting any older.
Q: There’s actually quite a correlation between ‘On the Jellicoe Road’ and the ‘Lumatere Chronicles’. Your fantasy series is about people who are exiled from their homeland. While the contemporary ‘Jellicoe’ is about a displacement of a different kind, in Taylor Markham whose trying to piece together the puzzle of her past to understand who she is. Also interesting that ‘Jellicoe’ is based in a rural boarding school – filled with children who are separated from their homes and families. And they’re both, in a way, about what happens after tragedy – how people cope in its wake. Did you find that writing the ‘Lumatere Chronicles’ alongside the ‘Jellicoe’ script helped inform both works, that one had influence over the other and vice-versa?
No, although I do love your connections. For me, Finnikin of the Rock came after Jellicoe because of the world building of Jellicoe and the descriptive language and the sometimes-surreal nature of that world. I don’t think I could have jumped from the style of Francesca to the fantasy novels. I actually think that The Lumatere Chronicles are more related to Looking For Alibrandi. All those novels are about displacement and Diasporas and the loss of language within generations of family and they’re about homeland and identity.
Q: I was lucky enough to attend your Melbourne Writers Festival event in August, held in the ACMI building and jam-packed with school kids. There was a great atmosphere from the audience that day, and many questions were asked about the ‘Jellicoe’ movie adaptation. I got the sense that all your young fans are very patient for the movie to come along, and very trusting in your vision for the adaptation. Do you feel that acceptance/eagerness from your fans? What has been the response from your fanbase (both here, and in America) where the ‘Jellicoe’ movie is concerned?
The thing I love about working with Sue Taylor is how respectful she is of the readers’ passion for this novel, and she knows that it will be the readership that generates the interest for this project. It will be the readers who will get those who haven’t read Jellicoe to come along and watch the film. What will be unavoidable is disappointing readers who have a set idea of what Taylor and Jonah and everyone look like. What I discovered from Alibrandi was that it didn’t matter what I imagined everyone looking like. It mattered that we cast the right actors and in Alibrandi, we certainly did. Nothing is certain in the casting of this film except that Chaz Santangelo who is Italian and indigenous will be played by an indigenous actor. And that I really want the cast to reflect the diversity of the novel, especially the present day kids in the story. I’ll say it over and over again; the lack of cultural diversity in Australian TV shows and films is extremely weak. It’s what makes me so proud of Alibrandi and it’s what I’m loving so much about Redfern Now.